Some say that the only way to heal grief is to face it and “move through” the pain. I beg to differ. Healing grief is more of a dance. It is holding grief close and letting it go. It is thinking about it and not thinking about it, talking about it and not talking about it. It is settling into the quiet and lively spaces in your life where grief is and where grief isn’t. It is weeping with your pain and laughing in the face of it.
In my work as a hospital chaplain, I met a young woman once who had stage IV cancer. She loved to laugh and joke. I could sense it was healing for her. I know it was for me. After we bonded that way, she told me, “It is so good to laugh with someone who gets my morbid cancer jokes. My brother-in-law gets angry at me when I do this. But, you know, it’s the only way I can get through it. ” Yes, I do know. And I understand how it can startle some people – this laughing in the face of pain and death.
Years ago, when my family experienced several devastating losses in a matter of months, we discovered that humor and laughter could be our saving grace as we navigated our grieving path. So, when I became a hospital chaplain, I took laughter with me. I don’t use it as an entry, or carry it into a room irreverently or unnecessarily. I simply take note when there is an invitation, when laughter is there waiting to bubble up out of the depths of a person’s pain.
Not everyone gets it. When I was a resident chaplain at a large Trauma I hospital, where we dealt with death and tragedy every day, I had a supervisor who was put off by my love of laughter. She thought it was a nervous habit and told me so one day. I knew differently, but instead of replying in the moment, I wrote her this poem:”
Laugh in the face of loss and you may find that loss is not all there is. You may find that your heart still beats with the rhythms of people and things you love that are not lost, people and things you may love yet. The empty places beckon laughter to cascade into a holy fountain of healing.